Designing the digital tale

Many of the canonical works of hypertext fiction were written before the World Wide Web, so the author/designers were creating an experience for users who were not already familiar with the conventions of HTML documents. (When we surf the web, we expect links to change color after we visit them, we expect a home button in the upper left corner, etc.).

Although advocates of hypertext narrative (Bolter 2001, Jackson 1997, Landow 1997, for example) have enthusiastically argued that interactivity offers the reader more creative input, the difficult balance between the positive rewards of creative control and the negative effects of unwanted effort, is an aspect barely discussed in the literature, though Murray (1997b) and Ryan (2006) acknowledge the issue.The data strongly supports Murray’s (1997) contention that authorial control and reader agency must be carefully balanced. What appeared to be happening for the readers in my study is that the presence of interactivity promised something that hypertext in its current form could not deliver — ie, a game-like level of user control combined with a novel-like level of audience subordination to authorial leadership. The two experiences seemed to clash destructively in many readers’ minds.The readers who commented on this issue all talked about the need for control to be given such that it progressed the narrative at all times. Whether that control is the offer of hyper-linked words, or animated images, whatever the reader does to the screen should develop the story. — James Pope, (See also Part 1, “Twists in the Digital Tale“)